Meatless Monday: Pumpkin mac and cheese

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Fall is here! And I’m all in. I love summer as much as the next gal (tomatoes! the beach! relaxed schedules! sunshine! longer days!), but I can only take so much sweating before I’m ready for fleeces and squash (leaves changing! fires! apple picking! Halloween! schedules!).

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This mac and cheese is warming, cheesy, and chock full of veggies. It also works as dinner or lunch (or both!). I’ve made this with some sausage on the side for an even heartier meal, but it’s very filling on its own.

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A couple of notes:
- I use half roasted squash and half pumpkin (butternut or acorn squash is my favorite, but you could use kobocha or delicata) because I don’t always love straight pumpkin pasta sauces. There is something heavy and somehow both flavorless and overwhelming about a sauce made with just pumpkin.
- The most time consuming part of this recipe is cooking the onions. A longer, slower cook yields much better flavor that significantly improves the final dish. I recommend taking the time.
- This recipe makes twice as much sauce as you need. You can either freeze half, or make two boxes (2 lbs) of pasta for a large family. We’ve found that using 1 box of pasta and freezing half of the sauce yields one dinner for the three of us and two lunches for M (and some late-night picking for us).

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Pumpkin mac and cheese

1 Tbsp olive oil, butter, ghee, or your fat of choice
1 medium onion, sliced thinly
1 clove garlic, minced
10 large sage leaves (about 1 Tbsp), minced
½ tsp kosher salt
½-1 can pumpkin puree
½ small acorn squash (or about 1 cup any type of squash), roasted
½-1 cup milk
½ cup gruyere, shredded
½ cup cheddar cheese, shredded
¼ cup grated parmesan
1 lb pasta
1/2 cup reserved pasta water

Preheat the oven to 425. Cut your squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Place cut-side down on a parchment-covered baking sheet. Bake until fork tender, about 20-30 minutes.  


Bring a large stock pot of salted water to a boil. (I add 2 heaping tsp of salt to my pasta water and that usually does the trick.) Cook your pasta according to package directions (towards the end of cooking your onions). Reserve 1/2 cup of pasta cooking water.

Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the olive oil and heat for 30 seconds. Turn the heat down to medium low and add the thinly sliced onions. Brown, stirring often, until caramelized, about 25- 30 minutes. Don’t worry if your onions become a little frizzled or fried instead of caramelized. I tend to forget them or have the flame up too high for a minute. Either way, they’ll taste delicious as long as they’re well cooked.

Add the garlic and sage to the onions and cook for one minute, or until fragrant. Remove from the heat.

In a blender or food processor, combine the cooked onions, garlic, sage, acorn (or other) squash, pumpkin puree, and cheese. Blend on high. Slowly add the milk until you’ve reached your desired consistency.* Scrape down the sides as needed.

Pour about 1/2 of the sauce into a large container for another time.

Drain your pasta, but reserve ½ cup of the pasta water. Put the pasta back into the pasta pot, top with ½ of the sauce, and thin out as needed with the reserved pasta water. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed.

*The amount of milk you’ll need depends largely on your squash. Some squash have more water in them, so you’ll need less milk. Start with ¼ cup and add more as needed.

Yield: 4 adult-sized dinner servings, 6 kid-sized dinner servings, or more if you’re serving this for lunch

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Delicata squash boats!

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It's Whole 30 time again, folks. Between the move and my health, I've been feeling unmoored and eating with an abandon that has left me sluggish, foggy, and out of control.

So, I'll be posting some non-Whole 30 recipes that are already in my queue and that we make for Max, but will also be focusing on Whole-30 compliant recipes, especially over on Instagram.

In the mean time, these squash boats are so so good. I made a 1/2 batch for this post and have been eating the plain roasted delicata squash with everything. As I write this, I'm feasting on 1/4 of a squash filled with homemade turkey sausage and topped with a runny egg.

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Delicata is the sort-of-lazy man's squash. It's not totally without prep as you have to cut it in half and clean out the seeds in the middle. But there's no peeling, because the peel is edible, which erases the most aggravating thing about squash for me.

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Anyway, the non-Whole 30 version of these are a huge hit with the toddler. While, obviously, the cheese, milk, and bread play a big role, the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. The bread and nutty cheese are a nice salty, crunchy counterpoint to the sweet, soft squash while the eggs and milk add richness and the kale adds a little green as well. 

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Delicata squash boats

2 large delicata squash, washed, ends trimmed, and cut in half with seeds scooped out
2 eggs
1 cup whole milk
¼ cup grated parmesan
4 large sage leaves, minced (or ½ tsp of dried sage)
4 oz stale bread cubes
1 cup finely chopped kale
4 oz cooked sausage
2 oz gruyere

Preheat the oven to 400. While the oven is heating, clean the squash by cutting each log in half, scooping out the seeds and pulp in the center, and placing cut-side down on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

In a large bowl, combine the eggs and milk and whisk lightly to combine. Add the bread cubes and stir to dampen all of the bread. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir until combined and nothing is dry. Set aside.

Roast the squash for 15 minutes, or until a fork can just pierce the outside of the squash (the squash will continue to cook, so don’t look for full fork tenderness and you don’t want overdone squash because it could fall apart). 

Remove from the oven and carefully flip over being mindful of the steam. Scoop equal amounts of filling into the centers. Top with grated gruyere and place back in the oven for 10 minutes or until the cheese is brown and melted.

Yield: 4 dinner-sized servings for adults (M usually eats about ½ of a squash)  

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Barley and squash "risotto"

Barley and squash “risotto” |  Me & The Moose. This faux risotto uses barley instead of the usual arborio rice, which needs a lot less stirring, but is just as delicious. Add in some breakfast sausage, roasted squash, cheese, and lots of sage and you have a balanced dinner that’ll please just about anyone. #meandthemoose #barley #risotto #squash #dinnerrecipes #easydinners #balaneddinnerrecipes #ricebowl #autumnrecipes

Friends, lets talk about when your toddlers refuse to eat (and the blinding rage that sometimes ensues!). Despite my best efforts, this happens to us frequently (the hunger strikes, not necessarily the rage). I work HARD not to take it personally because I know it's developmentally appropriate (oral stage, individuation, changing taste buds, yadda yadda yadda). One thing I can say with certainty is that it always passes. This is our basic game plan, which we stick to, but not rigidly:

1) If he's hungry, he'll eat. Most of the time, we let him determine how much he wants. We encourage him a little if he says "all done" after two bites because sometimes he's referring to the high chair and not the food. I'm not particularly good at recognizing my own hunger/satiety cues, so I want to help M be more attuned to his body.

2) Push the veggies and protein, especially when your kids are most hungry. M is a morning eater and tends to gobble up whatever we put in front of him before 11 am, so I pack that meal with as much goodness as possible. Similarly, I offer him some veg, some protein, and some good fat in all of his meals. It's much easier to get him to eat fruit and grains, so I don't push those: They end up eaten anyway. 

3) Don't "hide" veggies, cook with them. Find the happy medium with more nutritious food. I agree with folks like Amy Palanjian from Yummy Toddler Food about not "hiding" veggies. But that doesn't mean you have to serve your kids a head of steamed broccoli and call it a day. Conversely, all veggies don't have to be smothered with chocolate or cheese. If you're making a grilled cheese, throw in some spinach and tell them that it's in there.

4) Don't become a line cook. In other words, if your kid is refusing to eat, don't twist yourself into knots preparing something else. This is the hardest to stick to and probably the least rigid of our rules, especially because M is under 2.  His tastebuds are legitimately changing, so what tasted great one day, may actually taste different the next. If he's eaten well at his other meals, we don't sweat a small dinner. Another strategy we use is, instead of making him something entirely new, we'll add a pouch or piece of toast with almond butter while encouraging him to take a few bites of the rejected food. Sometimes he refuses to eat because he's tired or too hungry and a few bites of something familiar can help him calm down and eat the other food too.

Barley and squash “risotto” | Me & The Moose. This faux risotto uses barley instead of the usual arborio rice, which needs a lot less stirring, but is just as delicious. Add in some breakfast sausage, roasted squash, cheese, and lots of sage and you have a balanced dinner that’ll please just about anyone. #meandthemoose #barley #risotto #squash #dinnerrecipes #easydinners #balaneddinnerrecipes #ricebowl #autumnrecipes
Barley and squash “risotto” | Me & The Moose. This faux risotto uses barley instead of the usual arborio rice, which needs a lot less stirring, but is just as delicious. Add in some breakfast sausage, roasted squash, cheese, and lots of sage and you have a balanced dinner that’ll please just about anyone. #meandthemoose #barley #risotto #squash #dinnerrecipes #easydinners #balaneddinnerrecipes #ricebowl #autumnrecipes

All of that to say, the first few times I made this "risotto" M loved it, until last night when he acted like I had made RANCID barley and squash risotto. I assure you, this dish is delicious and though there are a few steps, they can be done simultaneously, so it's less effort than most risotto dishes. And there's barely any stirring!

I used Kabocha squash, which has a creamier consistency when roasted than butternut or delicata squashes and a thicker texture than the pumpkin or acorn varieties. But feel free to swap in any squash you can find in your store or have on hand. Also swap in spinach or any other greens for the kale, and/or turkey, chicken, or beef for the pork sausage. I wouldn't recommend adding fish to this guy, but serving a veggie version alongside a piece of fish would be great. Last note: I used hulled barley instead of pearled barley, which is the browner of the two in the bulk bins of your Whole Foods. It takes longer to cook, but is more nutritious if you don't mind the extra cooking time. 

Barley and squash “risotto” | Me & The Moose. This faux risotto uses barley instead of the usual arborio rice, which needs a lot less stirring, but is just as delicious. Add in some breakfast sausage, roasted squash, cheese, and lots of sage and you have a balanced dinner that’ll please just about anyone. #meandthemoose #barley #risotto #squash #dinnerrecipes #easydinners #balaneddinnerrecipes #ricebowl #autumnrecipes

Barley and squash risotto

3 cups water
1 cup hulled barley
2 cups chicken stock
½-1 bunch kale, stems removed and chopped into pieces
1 cup roasted Kombucha squash, about half of a small squash
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
8 oz pork sausage, de-cased
2 medium shallot
1 clove garlic
10 fresh sage leaves or ½ tsp dried sage

Combine barley and water in a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, over low heat until water is absorbed, about 45-60 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut squash in half and place cut side down on a parchment-covered baking sheet. Roast at 400 degrees for 30- 45 minutes or until the flesh is easily pierced with a fork. Let cool slightly and scoop out 1 cup (or half) of the cooked squash and set aside.

In a separate pan, brown the sausage. When fully cooked, remove and drain on a paper towel and add the shallots and garlic to the pan with the leftover pork fat and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the sage and cook until aromatic.

When barley is done, add chicken stock and bring back to a boil. Add chopped kale and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat and add squash, parmesan, salt, and pepper. If the risotto looks too wet, let simmer for a few minutes until enough liquid has evaporated, but remember that the risotto will firm up as it cools. (Basically, you want the mixture to be oozy, but you shouldn’t see any excess liquid.) When ready, add the sausage, sage, onion, and garlic mixture and let heat through. Serve with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese on top.

Yield: About 8 servings, ¾ cup each

Need ideas for using the leftover squash? Try these grain-free waffles but swap in squash for the sweet potato.

Barley and squash “risotto” | Me & The Moose. This faux risotto uses barley instead of the usual arborio rice, which needs a lot less stirring, but is just as delicious. Add in some breakfast sausage, roasted squash, cheese, and lots of sage and you have a balanced dinner that’ll please just about anyone. #meandthemoose #barley #risotto #squash #dinnerrecipes #easydinners #balaneddinnerrecipes #ricebowl #autumnrecipes
Barley and squash “risotto” | Me & The Moose. This faux risotto uses barley instead of the usual arborio rice, which needs a lot less stirring, but is just as delicious. Add in some breakfast sausage, roasted squash, cheese, and lots of sage and you have a balanced dinner that’ll please just about anyone. #meandthemoose #barley #risotto #squash #dinnerrecipes #easydinners #balaneddinnerrecipes #ricebowl #autumnrecipes

Rainbow vegetable quiche

Rainbow vegetable quiche | Me & The Moose. This quiche is a tasty and pretty way to get your toddlers to eat veggies. It also cubes easily for a finger food. #meandthemoose #quiche #vegetarian #vegancrust #brunch

Isn't she puuuurty? This dish combines a lot of M's favorite foods: Eggs, cheese, milk, and bread (or at least, something bread-adjacent). Also, quiches are basically fancy casseroles with all of the benefits (big-batch; make ahead and reheat; easily customized based on preferences; etc), but are less messy than some of the saucier casseroles and are cube-able, which means that quiche = toddler finger food. This particular quiche is so pretty that I would happily feed it to a crowd. It's also so tasty that I would happily eat it all by myself (which I pretty much did because M went on a hunger strike after I made it).

Rainbow vegetable quiche | Me & The Moose. This quiche is a tasty and pretty way to get your toddlers to eat veggies. It also cubes easily for a finger food. #meandthemoose #quiche #vegetarian #vegancrust #brunch

I used a pre-made crust because I'm lazy. I like the Whole Foods 365 frozen vegan crust. I bought it by accident once and it was quite flaky and delicious, so I've now purposely bought it a few times. The bottom crust tends to stay a little raw on my quiches (not grossly raw, but not fully cooked either) and with a vegan crust, I don't have to worry so much if something is a bit underdone. 

Rainbow vegetable quiche | Me & The Moose. This quiche is a tasty and pretty way to get your toddlers to eat veggies. It also cubes easily for a finger food. #meandthemoose #quiche #vegetarian #vegancrust #brunch

I also recommend pre-cooking the veggies a little bit, but this step isn't crucial. I just like predictability and pre-cooking means that all of the veggies will be evenly cooked. Tossing them in raw is more of a gamble, though after 45+ minutes of cooking, they'll probably be fully cooked. Probably.

Rainbow vegetable quiche | Me & The Moose. This quiche is a tasty and pretty way to get your toddlers to eat veggies. It also cubes easily for a finger food. #meandthemoose #quiche #vegetarian #vegancrust #brunch
Rainbow vegetable quiche | Me & The Moose. This quiche is a tasty and pretty way to get your toddlers to eat veggies. It also cubes easily for a finger food. #meandthemoose #quiche #vegetarian #vegancrust #brunch

I'm back on a temporary Whole 30 (more like a Whole 15) as I post this, and man do I feel like eating cheese and wheat.

Rainbow Veggie Quiche

1 large tomato
½ large sweet potato
½ large yellow squash
2 handfuls spinach
3 small purple potatoes
olive oil
4 large eggs
¾ cup whole milk
¾ cup cheddar cheese
1 9” pre-made pie crust (or your favorite homemade crust in a 9-inch pie plate)

Preheat the oven to 400. Slice sweet potatoes, purple potatoes, and yellow squash into ¼ slices. You can use a mandolin or just eyeball it. Spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet and brush lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Cook in the oven for about 10 minutes until the sweet potatoes become pliable.

In the meantime, combine 4 eggs and milk and whisk lightly. Grate the cheese and add ½ cup to the egg/milk mixture, reserving ¼ cup. Season with salt and pepper. Stir to combine and put in the fridge.

Next, using a fork, make holes all over your pie crust.  Once the veggies are done, turn the oven down to 375 and cook the empty pie crust for 10 minutes.

Remove the crust from the oven and begin assembly. I recommend putting a sheet pan beneath your crust to catch any spillover. Starting with the purple potatoes, spread a single layer over the bottom of the crust (pie crust should peek through). Then, add two handfuls of spinach. Pour about 1/3 of the milk/cheese/egg mixture over these layers and tap the quiche once to remove air bubbles. Then, add the yellow squash layer and the sweet potato layer. Pour over the other 1/3 of the milk/cheese/egg mixture. Tap once to remove air bubbles. By this point, the liquid should be even with the sweet potato layer and everything should be at about the rim of the pie crust. If not, add more liquid and veggies. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, uncovered. After 30 minutes, remove the quiche and add the tomato layer. Pour ¼ cup of liquid over the tomatoes and top with the remaining cheese. Put back into the oven for 15 minutes, or until the quiche is set. You should be able to rotate the entire thing without much movement from the contents. If the quiche is not set after 45 minutes, but the cheese on top is browning, cover with foil and check after another 10 minutes.

Let cool before serving.